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Message from the Superintendent: Additional Back to School Information

Thank you for the continued feedback, support and engagement as we navigate the Governor's Back to School Guidance received yesterday, July 30, 2020. We want to reassure you that whichever model we implement, our top priority is to educate, inspire, and empower all learners in a safe environment. 

Overnight, we have received many questions and/or comments about Back to School. Most of the questions and/or comments are related to:

  • The desire of ISD 728 families to have their children back in school
  • Whether the District can make decisions sooner than August 21, 2020
  • Whether the District must use county data to make the instructional model decision?
  • What information the District can provide about each instructional model (Face-to-Face, Hybrid, Distance Learning)
  • Requirements for students regarding masks, and/or face coverings?
  • Whether there be sports and/or activities?

The purpose of this communication is to provide more information about each topic. 

The desire to ISD 728 families to have their children back in school

  • The majority of ISD 728 families have communicated they want their children back in school face-to-face. 
  • ISD 728 has also expressed that it wants to have students back in school. 

Unfortunately, the Department of Health has determined it is not safe for all learners in ISD 728 to receive Face-to-Face instruction at this time. They are basing that decision on local, county data within the school district. 

The Governor’s Order requires the Department of Health’s approval, and thus, ISD 728 may not implement a Face-to-Face Model at this time.

Can the District make decisions sooner than August 21, 2020?

Yes, the District could announce a decision sooner. However, current data does not allow ISD 728 to provide face-to-face instruction for the entire District. The only legal option ISD 728 has at this point is to declare a more restrictive model, which would be Hybrid or Distance Learning for all. This outcome would not align with our preference of being back in school and face-to-face. Therefore, we want to wait until August 21, 2020 to make a decision, which is the last possible date allowed under the Governor’s Order and the date in which we will have the most up-to-date information, in hope that we will be allowed to have more face-to-face instruction in our schools to start the year.

Does the District have to use county data to make instructional model decisions? 

The Department of Health has determined it is not safe for all learners in ISD 728 to receive Face-to-Face instruction at this time. They are basing that decision on local, county data within the school district.

Districts must have the approval from the Department of Health to use an instructional model (Face-to-Face or Hybrid) that is different from the one supported by the county data. 

Minnesota school districts are unable to select what data they want to use and what data they do not want to use. Additionally, districts can not average the data from different counties. 

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) indicated schools are to use data from the county with the highest number of cases to make the decision, and may choose a more restrictive instructional model if desired. Again, if a decision is based on different data, it must be approved by the Department of Health and Commissioner. ISD 728 has not been given permission or approval to do so.

Finally, guidance states, “School districts must adhere to the health requirements and recommendations in the MDH 2020-21 Planning Guidance” and that “the education commissioner retains statutory authority to order the transition from in-person instruction to a distance learning model if it is determined – after consultation with MDH – that in-person instruction is no longer safe due to concerns related to COVID-19.”

In summary: 

  • The Department of Health has determined it is not safe for all learners in ISD 728 to receive Face-to-Face instruction at this time
  • ISD 728 has not been given authority or permission to implement a Face-to-Face Model for all learners
  • ISD is hopeful that data obtained closer to the start of school will allow for more Face-to-Face instruction
  • We will continue to work with the State and Department of Health to explore the safest and best options for our families

What information can the District provide about each instructional model (Face-to-Face, Hybrid, Distance Learning)?

Specific details about each model will be dependent on such things as the ability to transport students, the number of families who choose to have their children transported, the instructional model mandated by the Governor’s Executive Order, the number of families who choose Distance Learning for their child(ren) etc. 

The District is collecting family intentions for Distance Learning now. We will communicate specific information on the model details in ISD 728 during the week of August 17, 2020. However, here is some information we can share today about each instructional model:

Full Time Distance Learning Option

As we have previously shared with families, you may opt into the ISD 728 Distance Learning Model if you would prefer a full time distance learning option, regardless of what other learning model may be in place.

Learners who opt into the Distance Learning Model will:

  • Be organized by grade level/course when possible by building/class
  • Engage in synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (flexible) learning activities
  • Participate in meetings with teachers in the appropriate licensure area
  • Have opportunities to interact with other students from the same building/class as much as possible
  • Meet all grade/content learning standards and graduation requirements
  • Demonstrate learning through multiple pathways

Please Note: The 2020 Distance Learning Model will be different than the model used last spring in many ways. For example, there will be daily interactions between students and teachers, and grade level expectations will be the same as in the traditional Face-to-Face Model. 

If you would like to opt your learner into the ISD 728 Distance Learning Model, you may do so at www.isd728.org/20-21-DistanceLearning and have until Sunday, August 9, at 11:59 p.m. 

By selecting Distance Learning by the August 9, 2020 deadline, a Parent/Guardian is guaranteed a spot within the ISD 728 District’s Distance Learning Program for their child(ren) and is committed to participating in this model until at least November 19, 2020. By having this information and commitment, ISD 728 will be better able to plan for and address staffing, transportation, and food service needs for all learners. 

If Parents/Guardians of children participating in the Distance Learning Model are interested at some point in their child(ren) returning to a Face-to-Face Model after November 19, 2020, they will be given that opportunity if onsite, face-to-face instruction is allowed. 

Hybrid Model

In a Hybrid Model, learners are expected to receive instruction from teachers every day of the week in either a distance or in-person format. Learners will have opportunities to engage with staff on a daily basis to support learning. Like the Distance Model, learners participating in the Hybrid Model will:

  • Be organized by grade level/course when possible by building/class
  • Engage in synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (flexible) learning activities
  • Participate with teachers in the appropriate licensure area
  • Have opportunities to interact with other students from the same building/class as much as possible
  • Meet all grade/content learning standards and graduation requirements
  • Demonstrate learning through multiple pathways

In addition, ISD 728 will follow MDH guidance and the MDE guidance including, but not limited to the following:

Limit building occupancy to no more that 50% with sufficient room for social distancing:

  • Signage to reinforce social distancing used throughout the building
  • Flow of traffic into and through the building will be designed around social distancing
  • Visitor/Parent access to schools will be limited 


Limit room occupancy to no more than 50% with sufficient room for social distancing:

  • High frequency touch points will be sanitized throughout the day
  • Spaces will be sanitized each night
  • Rooms will be organized for social distancing


Limit transportation occupancy to no more than 50%:

  • High frequency touch points will be sanitized between routes
  • A deep cleaning of all surfaces will take place daily 
  • Students from the same family will be seated together


Cohorts and Time Onsite

In the Hybrid Model, ISD 728 will limit the mixing of students to the best of its ability and thus, work to create cohorts (groups of students) that are consistent. When the Distance Learning survey is complete, we will be able to finalize the members for each cohort. In this Model, families/households would be placed on the same schedule, and individual learning, transportation, and the health needs would be considered when assigning learners to a cohort. ISD 728 will not be able to accommodate requests to change cohorts. 

What can you tell us about requirements related to students, masks, and/or face coverings?

Governor's Executive Order 20-81 requires all Minnesotans to wear a face covering in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces, unless alone. This includes times on a school bus and/or van. According to the Order:

  • Face coverings include a paper or disposable face mask, a cloth face mask, a scarf, a bandana, a neck gaiter, or a religious face covering
  • Individuals with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the individual to maintain a face covering are exempt
  • Children 5 years old and under who are not in Kindergarten yet are not required to wear a face shield or face covering, and children under two should never wear a face covering due to the risk of suffocation 
  • Kindergarten through grade 12 schools must comply with face covering and face shield guidance 
  • Face coverings may be removed:
    • When participating in organized sports in an indoor business or indoor public space while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering. 
    • When exercising, while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering, provided that social distancing is always maintained. 
    • During practices or performances in an indoor business or indoor public space when a face covering cannot be used while playing a musical instrument, provided that social distancing is always maintained. 
    • During activities, such as swimming or showering, where the face covering will get wet. 
    • When eating or drinking in an indoor business or indoor public space, provided that at least 6 feet of physical distance is maintained between persons who are not members of the same party. 
    • When asked to remove a face covering to verify an identity for lawful purposes. 
    • While communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing or has a disability, medical condition, or mental health condition that makes communication with that individual while wearing a face covering difficult, provided that social distancing is maintained to the extent possible between persons who are not members of the same household. 
    • While receiving a service—including a dental examination or procedure, medical examination or procedure, or personal care service.
    • When an individual is alone, including when alone in an office, a room, a cubicle with walls that are higher than face level when social distancing is maintained.

Will there be sports and/or activities?

The Minnesota State High School League has the authority to make decisions about sports and/or activities for all Minnesota school districts. The League’s Board is expected to make its decision on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

 

Sincerely,
Dr. Daniel Bittman
ISD 728 Superintendent